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Research Methods in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). Ps534 Dr. Ken Reeve Caldwell College Post-Bac Program in ABA. It All Begins with Knowledge…. Knowledge is information about how things work Information is only useful if it is accurate (“valid”)

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Research methods in applied behavior analysis aba

Research Methods in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)


Dr. Ken Reeve

Caldwell College

Post-Bac Program in ABA

It all begins with knowledge
It All Begins with Knowledge…

  • Knowledge is information about how things work

  • Information is only useful if it is accurate (“valid”)

  • Unfortunately, lots of knowledge sources have errors and subjective biases

  • How do we know what knowledge (information) is accurate?


  • Is nothing more than a certain way to gather knowledge

  • Strives to minimize subjective bias and maximize accuracy

  • Uses objective, systematic, and direct observation of phenomena being studied

  • Likely to be most accurate source of knowledge for how things work in the world

Science and assessing effective intervention
Science and Assessing Effective Intervention

  • Science provides certain criteria to decide what information is (and is not) valid (accurate)

  • Actually, “validity” of information is along a continuum (from “baloney” all the way to “fact”)

  • Ultimate goal for interventionists (educators) : to identify what maximizes learning (and what doesn’t work or may even harm the child!)

Some terms
Some Terms

  • MEASUREMENT = to quantify and identify the characteristics of what (or whom) you’re looking at

    • “number of hand raises” made by a child in an hour is a measurement involving quantification

    • “yes, he said ‘please’” is a measurement involving identifying

  • DATA = the collected measurements of what you’re examining

    • These provide evidence about how good our information is

Some terms1
Some Terms

  • VARIABLE = anything that can be measured and that can change in value (what you are investigating) DEPENDENT VARIABLE = the part of the child’s behavior you are measuring (outcome or TARGET BEHAVIOR)

  • INDEPENDENT VARIABLE = how you are teaching the child; usually this is the TREATMENT or intervention

Some terms2
Some Terms

  • HYPOTHESIS = a statement predicting how one variable will be related to, or affect, another variable

    • It is not really an educated “guess” but a well informed prediction based on past evidence

  • THEORY = a statement explaining why a relationship exists between two variables

    • What makes a theory a good one or a bad one? EVIDENCE!!

    • Refrigerator Mother Theory?

Some terms3
Some Terms

  • OPERATIONAL DEFINITION = an objective definition of a variable (everyone can measure what you are measuring)

  • INTEROBSERVER AGREEMENT (IOA) – extent to which observers agree on what they are observing

    • IOA will be high ONLY when the variables have been defined so that everyone understands what is being studied

Some terms4
Some Terms

  • FUNCTIONAL RELATIONSHIP = degree to which the independent variable affects the dependent variable (and can you isolate this effect!!)

    • Main focus in research is to determine functional relationship between intervention X and learning outcome Y

What is research the search for answers
What is Research: the Search for Answers!

  • How can we possibly answer the question Does the teaching practice benefit the child? AND Can we conclude that it was NOT something else that benefited the child?)

  • Need to investigate functional relationships using particular, agreed upon investigation techniques called RESEARCH…

Research techniques
Research Techniques

  • POOR RESEARCH TECHNIQUES: COMMON SENSE, INTUITION, HUNCHES – too many people use these as the final answer about how the world works (are MOST susceptible to errors and biases); also called “street smarts”

  • Although it’s perfectly fine to use these to come up with hypotheses and theories to test out!

    • “Hmm, it seems that some kids learn better in group activities, so maybe…”

Research techniques1
Research Techniques

  • BETTER: GET INFORMATION FROM AUTHORITIES – a better way to gain information

  • but is only as good as the authority’s credentials, expertise, and objectivity; also called “book smarts”

  • Make sure to see what other experts of equal credentials also say about the topic you’re investigating

  • we should always check the credentials of anyone claiming to be an expert on a topic

    • Does a BCBA or PhD make you an automatic expert?

Research techniques2
Research Techniques

  • BEST: EXPERIMENTATION – best way to gain information about functional relationships because you can isolate effects of particular variables under objective conditions

Causation vs correlation
Causation vs. Correlation

  • CORRELATION – two variables seem to change in a regular fashion with one another

    • Big Problem: WAY too many people infer CAUSALITY from this kind of relationship when we don’t really know, and they then act on it

    • Children seem to begin to develop ASD soon after they receive the MMR vaccine. Can we infer causation?

Causation vs correlation1
Causation vs. Correlation

  • CAUSATION – when evidence collected shows us that when one variable alone changes, the second variable also changes as a result of the first variable!

    • Using an EXPERIMENT is what allows us to make such inferences of CAUSALITY

    • If we withhold the MMR vaccine, does the same incidence of ASD develop in these other children?

Experimental designs
Experimental Designs

  • To reiterate, goal is to determine functional relationships (for this class: how does a particular teaching practice or intervention affect a child’s behavior?)

  • To do this, need to rule out effects of other variables you are not studying (called extraneous variables or CONFOUNDS)

  • you need to CONTROL FOR the other extraneous variables by holding them as CONSTANTS while varying the treatment (independent variable)…

Experimental group designs
Experimental GROUP Designs

  • One way to do this is to observe a group of persons under one condition (“treatment”) and then under a different condition (“control condition”) WITHOUT LETTING ANY OTHER VARIABLES CHANGE! Why?

  • Another way to do this is to get two or more groups of people who ARE THE SAME, and then apply the treatment to one group (“treatment group”) but not the other (“control group”) WITHOUT LETTING ANY OTHER VARIABLES CHANGE! Why?

So of course everyone uses scientifically validated interventions right not if
So…of course everyone uses scientifically validated interventions, right? Not if…


So of course everyone uses scientifically validated interventions right not if1
So…of course everyone uses scientifically validated interventions, right? Not if…


    • Easier to just use what you already know (even if it doesn’t work well!)

So of course everyone uses scientifically validated interventions right not if2
So…of course everyone uses scientifically validated interventions, right? Not if…


    • Many folks are “anti-science” and feel that we must trust our gut, connect with our inner child, get back to a simpler mind-set, become “noble savages”, relate to one another, see reward use as “manipulation”, etc.

    • This is a good example of how SUBJECTIVE BIASES may affect policy!!

What is Applied Behavior Analysis? interventions, right? Not if…

  • Applied Behavior Analysis: scientific application of behavioral principles (such as positive reinforcement, etc.) to socially relevant behavior.

    • Applied: behavior, stimuli, and/or organism under study are chosen because of their importance to humans and society.

    • Behavioral: Involves precise measurement of behavior (not reports of behavior).

    • Analytic: Involves believable demonstration of factors responsible for occurrence or non-occurrence of behavior change (i.e., a functional relationship).

Historical development of applied behavior analysis interventions, right? Not if…

  • Pavlov: classical or respondent conditioning. Study of behavior as a science

  • Watson: Little Albert experiment. Extension of behaviorism to humans.

  • Skinner: Experimental analysis of behavior; Radical Behaviorism; includes complex human behavior including emotions, thought, verbal behavior

Historical development of applied behavior analysis interventions, right? Not if…

  • Baer, Wolf, & Risley (1968) (Applied Behavior Analysis)

  • Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis (JABA)

  • Iwata el al. (1982/1994): Focused on “analysis” not only to modify or change behavior, but also to understand why behavior occurs

Areas studied in interventions, right? Not if… applied behavior analysis

  • Education

  • Developmental Disabilities

  • Business and industry

  • Drug and alcohol abuse

  • Classroom management

  • Behavioral Medicine

  • Behavioral Gerontology

  • Community

  • Others……

Definitions (terms that will be used throughout the course) interventions, right? Not if…

  • Behavior: Anything an organism does

  • Response: An instance of behavior

  • Environment: ambient surroundings, including one’s own body

  • Stimulus: Any physical event that can be measured

  • Stimuli: plural of stimulus

  • Consequence: Events that occur as a result of behavior

  • Antecedent: Events that occur prior to behavior

The study of behavior as science
The study of behavior as “science” interventions, right? Not if…

  • Experimental analysis of behavior (EAB): a science of behavior

  • Applied behavior analysis: applications of the principles derived from EAB

  • The basic characteristics of science are used to study behavior as the subject matter

Baer wolf risley 1968 7 dimensions of aba
Baer, Wolf, & Risley (1968) interventions, right? Not if…7 Dimensions of ABA

  • Applied: social significance of the study

  • Behavioral: Direct measure of behavior to be changed. Changes in behavior must be observable.

  • Analytical: Demonstration of a functional relation. Changes in behavior must be a function of manipulation being tested.

  • Technological: All procedures are completely identified and precisely described.

Baer wolf risley 1968 7 dimensions of aba1
Baer, Wolf, & Risley (1968) interventions, right? Not if…7 Dimensions of ABA

  • Conceptually Systematic: Procedures described in terms of the relevant learning principles from which they are derived (see “basic” research).

  • Effective: Procedures must improve behavior to a practical (“clinically significant”) degree.

  • Generality: behavior change is lasting, occurs in other environments, spreads to other behaviors, and can be demonstrated again under the same situations (REPLICATION).

Single subject experimental research designs
Single-Subject Experimental Research Designs interventions, right? Not if…

  • Group Designs

    • Average differences between groups of individuals - usually samples

    • One measure of each DV per individual

    • Assessed with t-tests, ANOVAs, or correlations

  • Single-Subject Design

    • Provides info about specific individuals rather than the average performance of a group

    • Repeated measures of the DV per individual

    • Each subject is compared to himself though the intervention may be replicated across several individuals using the same design

Single subject research
Single-Subject Research interventions, right? Not if…

  • Single subject research emphasizes clinical significance for an individual rather than statistical significance among groups.

  • If an intervention results in an observable, measurable improvement in functioning, often referred to an enhanced functioning, the results of the experiment are considered to have clinical significance

Generality of results
Generality of Results interventions, right? Not if…

  • When a functional relationship is established between an IV (treatment) and DV (behavior) for one individual, repeated studies of the same intervention are conducted using different individuals and different dependent variables.

    • E.g., praise increases student’s rate of doing math problems – this finding replicated across other academic and social behavior with numerous students is more convincing

Baseline measures
Baseline Measures interventions, right? Not if…

  • Measures of the behavior (DV) as it occurs “naturally” or before intervention

    • Collect at least five data points AND

    • Data taken until the baseline behavior is stable (stays about the same) or gets worse

Symbolic notation
Symbolic notation interventions, right? Not if…

  • A = baseline phase (LACK of intervention)

  • B = treatment phase (APPLYING intervention)

  • C = applying a DIFFERENT intervention than “B”)

  • D, E, F, etc = applying MANY DIFFERENT interventions (rarely used in most research)

More notation
More notation interventions, right? Not if…

  • Y axis = depicts measurement of TARGET BEHAVIOR (dependent variable)

  • X axis = depicts passage of time (seconds, minutes, sessions, days, etc.